Let’s join together to end Alzheimer’s Disease

By M. ERIC WILLIAMS,

Last week, we discussed National Diabetes Awareness month. Several readers wrote to inform me that it was also Alzheimer’s Awareness month. I am ashamed to say that this wasn’t even on my radar even though I have friends and family that have suffered from this disease. 

Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) is one of the most common forms of dementia, or a brain disorder that infers with a person’s ability to carry out daily activities. 

This disease begins slowly and initially affects the parts of the brain that deal with thought, memory and language. As AD progresses, suffers might not recognize family members or have trouble speaking, reading, and writing. It is not unusual for them to become anxious and aggressive. Eventually, the patient will require total care of the individual and AD can result in death. So how does this awful disease happen?

The truth is researchers do not know. What we do know is that plaques (similar to what you think of on your teeth) begin to develop in the hippocampus of the brain. The hippocampus is located deep inside your cranial structure and helps to encode memories.  Along with the cerebral cortex, damage to the hippocampus causes many of the cognitive and behavioral impairments that are common with AD.  Whether the plaques cause AD or AD causes the plaques is unknown. There are, however, several risk factors that have been established. 

Age is the greatest known contributor to AD and other dementias. Nearly 10 percent of people 65 and older have early signs with a full third of those above the age of 85 suffering from AD. Family history and genetics also seem to play a large role. One note, aluminum has been definitively proved to not be a cause.  Although there was a

n article published in the 1960’s supporting this, aluminum metal has not been linked to AD in any of studies conducted since that time. 

Early symptoms include memory loss in daily life and challenges in planning or solving even simple problems. AD suffers might also report confusion with time and place or new problems with speaking and writing. Not every sign of difficulty in memory means that it is AD. As we age, we naturally make mistakes in our daily lives. 

Making a bad decision from time to time or forgetting what day it is does not necessarily mean that it is an advancing dementia. Although, if you notice a repeating pattern of this, it is always a good idea to schedule an appointment with your physician. There are treatments and medications available that are more effective if the disease is caught in the early stages. 

November is a time when we can reflect on AD (and, yes, diabetes). You might see people sporting purple during this month to show their solidarity towards those suffering from AD.  There is also a popular social media hashtag that reads #ENDALZ (End Alzheimer’s).  However, this disease affects people year-round.

I encourage you to talk to your at-risk friends and family about AD and dementia and do your part to END ALZ.